Thursday 28th May 2020

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘nickel’

Poll shows Canadians back sustainable production of critical minerals

May 13th, 2020

by Greg Klein | May 13, 2020

A Mining Week announcement from the Mining Association of Canada expresses public opinion on an issue of increasing prominence. A survey by Abacus Data shows almost 90% of respondents “like the idea of Canada being a preferred source for critical minerals and would like to see government take a number of steps to support this approach,” MAC reported.

Poll shows Canadians back sustainable production of critical minerals

Increasing demand, supply chain weaknesses, and rivalries in trade and geopolitics have heightened concern for raw materials necessary for the aerospace industry, defence, communications, computing, medicine and clean energy.

“China has been a major supplier of these minerals but Canada has an opportunity to play a larger role in this marketplace as customers look for products made to high environmental standards,” MAC stated, pointing to its Towards Sustainable Mining program.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • 88% of respondents want Canada to increase its role in producing critical minerals for world markets

  • 86% want to encourage international investment in Canadian critical minerals and metals companies that are sustainability leaders

  • 83% want to encourage Canadian production of critical minerals to compete with China

  • 81% want to promote interest in Canadian critical minerals by drawing attention to Canada’s high standards of sustainability

MAC commissioned the online nationwide poll. Conducted between March 3 and 11, it surveyed 2,600 people weighted according to census data. Abacus gave the results a margin of error of plus or minus 1.92%, 19 times out of 20.

Canada is a top five country in global production of 15 minerals and metals, including several critical minerals essential to new technologies such as cobalt, copper, precious metals, nickel, uranium. We have the potential to expand in lithium, magnesium and rare earths.—Pierre Gratton, president/CEO,
Mining Association of Canada

“More than a decade of Canadian leadership in responsible mining practices is giving us an additional edge, and we see more investors and customers examining how their suppliers approach environmental responsibility,” said MAC president/CEO Pierre Gratton. “The market is growing and Canada’s opportunity is clear.”

In January Canada and the U.S. announced their Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, which the Canadian industry expects will attract investment and encourage further development of supply chains. The plan follows a number of American initiatives to reduce its dependence on rival countries, especially China.

MAC also pointed to the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan, a federal-provincial effort intended to enhance competitiveness, innovation and native participation in mining.

“Canadians may not all have a detailed knowledge about the mining sector,” added Gratton, “but they can clearly spot the chance to leverage our advantages in terms of abundant resources and the high standards of responsibility that our industry is known for. They know that winning a bigger share of this growing market means more well-paying jobs and stronger communities.”

According to figures supplied by MAC, mining contributes $97 billion to national GDP and 19% of total domestic exports. Employing 626,000 people directly and indirectly, the industry is proportionally Canada’s largest private sector employer of natives and a major customer of native-owned businesses.

International Montoro Resources furthers rare earths potential in B.C.

May 13th, 2020

by Greg Klein | May 13, 2020

Detailed analysis of field work shows the rare earths prospects of an early-stage project in east-central British Columbia. On March 13 International Montoro Resources TSXV:IMT announced a report culminating from last year’s grid-based survey of 535 soil samples on the 2,007-hectare Wicheeda North property.

International Montoro Resources furthers rare earths potential in BC

Previous work came under detailed analysis for International
Montoro Resources’ Wicheeda North REE prospect.
(Photo: International Montoro Resources)

“Thematic geochemical anomaly maps were generated for cerium and other values were received for light REEs including lanthanum, neodymium, praseodymium, samarium, europium and gadolinium,” the company stated.

The report was prepared by Bob Lane, who managed 2008 and 2009 drilling programs on the adjacent Wicheeda project, later acquired by First Legacy Mining, now Defense Metals TSXV:DEFN. Lane also took part in First Legacy’s 43-101 report on Wicheeda.

Commenting on International Montoro’s Wicheeda North, Lane said it “has the potential to host, and should continue to be explored for, REE mineralization because it occurs within a favourable geological belt known to contain carbonatite-hosted REE mineralization, such as the Main zone” of the Defense project neighbouring to the southeast.

Future recommendations include further prospecting and grid-based soil sampling. Additionally, airborne electromagnetics were suggested for the southern part of the property, which wasn’t surveyed in the EM, magnetic and radiometric geophysics conducted in 2010.

Given favourable results, Lane’s report recommends the company consider excavator trenching.

Last February the company announced exploration plans for its Camping Lake property in Ontario’s Red Lake region. Under an October 2019 agreement with Falcon Gold TSXV:FG, International Montoro may earn a 51% interest in the gold-base metals project.

Reporting on another Ontario project, International Montoro released geophysical analysis from Serpent River in December. The conclusions could indicate massive sulphide nickel-copper-PGE-gold mineralization on the Elliot Lake-region property, the company stated.

International Montoro’s portfolio also includes the Duhamel polymetallic project in Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region.

Last month the company closed a private placement of $56,525.

Robust or bust

May 7th, 2020

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

by Greg Klein | May 7, 2020

It might take premature complacency or enormously good fortune to look back and laugh at the Early 2020 Toilet Paper Panic. But from today’s viewpoint, bumwad might be the least of our worries. There won’t be much need for the stuff without enough food to sustain life. Or water. Medicine, heat and electricity come in handy too.

Sparsely stocked supermarket shelves have been blamed on hoarders who thwart the industry’s just-in-time system, a process credited with “robust” reliability when not challenged by irrational buying sprees. Consumer concern, on the other hand, might be understandable given the credibility of official positions such as Ottawa’s facemask flip-flop and initial arguments that closing borders would actually worsen the pandemic.

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

A North Vancouver supermarket seen in mid-March. While
stockpiling has abated, supply lines show signs of stress.
(Photo: Steeve Raye/Shutterstock.com)

Meanwhile Canadian farmers worry about the supply of foreign labour needed to harvest crops, dairy farmers dump milk for lack of short-distance transport and deadly coronavirus outbreaks force widespread closures of meat and poultry plants across Canada and the U.S.

Highlighting the latter problem were full-page ads in American newspapers from meat-packing giant Tyson Foods. “The food supply chain is breaking,” the company warned in late April. “Millions of animals—chickens, pigs and cattle—will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities.”

Within days the U.S. invoked the Defense Production Act, ordering meat plants to stay open despite fears of additional outbreaks. 

Just a few other pandemic-related food challenges in Canada include outbreaks at retail grocers, a shortage of packaging for a popular brand of flour and an Ontario supermarket warning customers to throw away bread in case it was tainted by an infected bakery worker.

Infrastructure supplying necessities like energy, fuel, water and communications faces pandemic-related challenges of its own, including availability of labour and expertise.

Supply chain complexity has been scrutinized in The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age. One example from author David S. Abraham was the electric toothbrush, a utensil comprising something like 35 metals that are sourced, refined and used in manufacturing over six continents.

Dissecting a 2017 smartphone, the U.S. Geological Survey found 14 necessary but mostly obscure elements. As a source country, China led the world with nine mineral commodities essential to mobile devices, and that list included rare earths in a single category.

In a recent series of COVID-19 reports on the lithium-ion necessities graphite, cobalt, lithium and nickel, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence stated: “From the raw material foundations of the supply chain in the DRC, Australia, Chile and beyond, through to the battery cell production in China, Japan and Korea, it is likely that the cells used by the Teslas of the world have touched every continent (sometimes multiple times over) before they reach the Model 3 that is driven (or drives itself) off the showroom floor.”

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

Consumers might not realize the complex
international networks behind staple items.

Or consider something more prosaic—canned tuna.

That favourite of food hoarders might be caught in the mid-Pacific, processed and canned in Thailand following extraction of bauxite (considered a critical mineral in the U.S.) in Australia, China, Guinea or elsewhere, with ore shipped for smelting to places where electricity’s cheap (China accounted for over 56% of global aluminum production last year). Then the aluminum moves on to can manufacturers, and transportation has to be provided between each point and onward to warehouses, retailers and consumers. Additional supply chains provide additional manufactured parts, infrastructure, energy and labour to make each of those processes work.

Still another supply chain produces the can opener.

Daily briefings by Canada’s federal and provincial health czars express hope that this country might “flatten the curve,” a still-unattained goal that would hardly end the pandemic when and if it’s achieved. Meanwhile the virus gains momentum in poorer, more populous and more vulnerable parts of the world and threatens a second, more deadly wave coinciding with flu season.

And if one crisis can trigger another, social order might also be at risk. Canada’s pre-virus blockades demonstrated this country’s powerlessness against a force not of nature but of self-indulgence. Even a cohesive, competent society would have trouble surviving a general infrastructure collapse, a scenario dramatized in William R. Forstchen’s novel One Second After. When transportation, communications, infrastructure and the financial system break down, so do a lot of people. Dangerous enough as individuals, they can form mobs, gangs and cartels.

How seriously Washington considers apocalyptic scenarios isn’t known. But prior to the pandemic, the U.S. had already been taking measures to reduce its dependency on China and other risky sources for critical minerals. Now, Reuters reports, COVID-19 has broadened American concerns to include other supply chains and inspired plans for an Economic Prosperity Network with allied countries. Questions remain about the extent that the West can achieve self-sufficiency and, in the U.S., whether another administration might undo the current president’s efforts.

Certainly globalist confidence persists. The Conference Board of Canada, for example, expects a slow return of supply chain operations to pre-pandemic levels but a renewed international order just the same. “Global co-operation is needed not only to tackle the health crisis, but also to restore trust in global supply chains and maintain the benefits that the growth in global trade has brought over the last two decades.”

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

New cars leave the manufacturing hub and disease
epicentre of Wuhan prior to the pandemic.
(Photo: humphery/Shutterstock.com)

One early COVID-19 casualty, the multi-continent diamond supply chain, already shows signs of gradual recovery according to Rapaport News. Despite mine suspensions, “there is more than enough rough and polished in the pipeline to satisfy demand as trading centres start to reopen. Belgium and Israel have eased lockdown restrictions, while India has allowed select manufacturing in Surat and special shipments to Hong Kong.”

Also struggling back to its feet is global automotive manufacturing. Writing in Metal Bulletin, Andrea Hotter outlines how the disease epicentre of Wuhan plays a vital role in making cars and supplying components to other factory centres. “If ever there was a masterclass in the need to disaster-proof a supply chain, then the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a harsh reminder to the automotive sector that it’s failing.”

So regardless of whether apocalyptic fears are overblown, there are lessons to be learned. As Benchmark points out, COVID-19 has disrupted “almost every global supply chain to such a profound extent that mechanisms for material sourcing, trade and distribution will likely never be the same again.”

In the meantime, a spare can opener or two might be prudent. Or maybe several, in case they become more valuable than bullion.

Mining resumes under COVID-19 but faces slow return: GlobalData

April 28th, 2020

by Greg Klein | April 28, 2020

Mining resumes under COVID-19 but faces slow return GlobalData

 

As of April 27 some 729 mines worldwide remain suspended, down from more than 1,600 shutdowns on April 3. The numbers, released by GlobalData, reflect government decisions to declare the industry an essential service, as well as implementation of new health standards and procedures. Those efforts, often involving staff reductions, contribute to “a slow return for the industry,” stated the data and analytics firm.

“Silver production is currently being severely damaged by lockdown measures,” pointed out GlobalData mining analyst Vinneth Bajaj. “As of 27 April, the equivalent of 65.8% of annual global silver production was on hold. Silver mining companies such as First Majestic, Hochschild, Hecla Mining and Endeavour Silver have all withdrawn their production guidance for 2020 in the wake of the outbreak.

Mining resumes under COVID-19 but faces slow return GlobalData

“Progress has also been halted on 23 mines under construction, including the US$5.3-billion Quellaveco copper mine in Peru, which is one of the world’s biggest copper mines currently under development…. In Chile, while a lockdown is not in force, Antofagasta has halted work on its Los Pelambres project and Teck Resources has suspended work on the Quebrada Blanca Phase II mine.”

Jurisdictions that have lifted suspensions include Quebec, India, Argentina, Zimbabwe and South Africa, GlobalData added. Countries with government-ordered lockdowns still in force include Bolivia (until April 30), Namibia (May 4), Peru (May 10) and Mexico (May 30).

At least one Mexico operator, Argonaut Gold TSX:AR, plans to re-open on May 18 under an exception for businesses operating in municipalities with few or no cases of COVID-19.

Quebec’s resumption of mining drew strong criticism from Makivik Corporation, which represents the Inuit of the province’s Nunavik region.

“Makivik will not entertain the opening of any mines at this time in Nunavik. This is very dangerous,” said corporation president Charlie Watt on April 17. “The Inuit-elected officials in the communities and in the different regional organizations need to be heard and need to make the decisions and call the shots.”

One day later production resumed at Glencore’s Raglan nickel mine. The company stated that Nunavik authorities have banned travel between the mine and regional villages to protect the local population. Local workers stay home with compensation, while the mine employs workers from the south, including Inuit who live in the south.

Without question this is taking a toll on all of our mines and service/supply companies.—Ken Armstrong, NWT and
Nunavut Chamber of Mines

Six mines still operating in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories use similar staffing precautions. “The mines are operating with reduced workforces which they must fly in by charter from as far away as eastern Canada,” said NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines president Ken Armstrong. “To protect vulnerable northern communities from the virus they have sent their local employees home with pay and they are maintaining costly and unplanned virus protection measures.”

Meanwhile Labrador politicians expressed concern about renewed operations at Champion Iron’s (TSX:CIA) Bloom Lake mine on the Quebec side of the Labrador Trough. On April 28 VOCM radio reported that MP Yvonne Jones asked the company to avoid the Wabush airport in her riding and transport employees entirely through Quebec. Member of the House of Assembly Jordan Brown said contractors were making unnecessary trips to the Newfoundland and Labrador side.

Another pandemic-caused Quebec mining suspension will stay on care and maintenance due to market forces. Renard owner Stornoway Diamond stated, “Despite positive signs in the diamond market in early 2020, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the entire marketing chain and diamond price collapse.”

Prior to the suspension, Renard operated only through creditor support.

Another diamond casualty has been the Northwest Territory’s Ekati mine, which suspended operations last month. Majority owner Dominion Diamond Mines received insolvency protection on April 22.

Discovered in 1991 and opened in 1998, Ekati “provided nearly 33,000 person-years of employment, and $9.3 billion in business spending, with over half the benefits (51% of jobs and 69% of spending) going to northern residents and businesses,” the Chamber stated. “Billions of dollars in various taxes and royalties have also been paid to public and indigenous governments by the mine.”

Li-ion under the pandemic

April 20th, 2020

COVID-19 cuts energy minerals demand but heightens future shortages: Benchmark

by Greg Klein | April 20, 2020

The pandemic will shrink lithium-ion battery demand by at least 25% this year even prior to further economic setbacks. But electric vehicles hold greater likelihood than many other industries not only for recovery but growth. Current reductions in lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel supply will only mean greater need later this decade, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

COVID-19 cuts energy minerals demand but heightens future supply shortages

In an April 16 webinar presented by managing director Simon Moores and head of price assessments Caspar Rawles, the two warned that pandemic conditions and responses will worsen an already critical supply scenario later this decade.

That “lost quarter” of a 25% reduction in demand will likely be just the beginning, Moores said. “If there’s going to be a longer economic impact, which is most likely going to happen, a severe economic impact globally, then of course we lose more than a quarter.”

Yet exponential growth should continue for Li-ion battery megafactories. Five years ago just three such plants were in production or planned, with capacity totalling 57 gigawatt hours. By 2018 the number of plants climbed to 52, for 1,147 GWh. This year the figures jumped to 130 plants totalling 2,300 GWh now in production or slated for completion by 2030. That’s enough for 43 million EVs averaging 55 kWh each.

That future seems distant, compared with the current production limitations brought on by health-related mine suspensions, along with delayed expansions and development of new mines. Transportation challenges also loom large, such as the South Africa lockdown that restricts cobalt transshipment from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the pandemic cuts supply, it curtails demand as well. Chinese automakers, the main producers of EVs, have largely shut down.

Lithium faced over-supply well before the pandemic, prompting cutbacks among majors like SQM, Albemarle, Ganfeng and Tianqi. “Also we saw that the majority of Tier 2 or 3 converters in China were already planning on going offline due to the low pricing we’ve seen in the market,” Rawles said.

So what that means down the road is those expansions which really need to be happening now to meet the future demand are not happening.—Caspar Rawles,
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence

“The key thing is that downturn in conversion capacity in China will mean that the backlog of spodumene feedstock material that’s sitting in China will take longer to work through, so we’re looking at a longer-term potential low-price environment,” he explained. “That threatens the economics of new projects of course and an increased risk of price volatility going forward…. So what that means down the road is those expansions which really need to be happening now to meet the future demand are not happening.”

What does a typical (35 GWh) NCM Li-ion battery plant consume in a year? Benchmark estimates 25,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide or carbonate, 6,000 tonnes of cobalt hydroxide, 19,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate and 33,000 tonnes of graphite.

“The supply chain won’t be able to build quick enough to meet this electric vehicle demand,” emphasized Moores. Even if estimates of EV growth were cut by 25% to 30%, “you’re still not going to have enough mining capacity, chemical capacity in the supply chain to make these. The lithium-ion supply chain has to grow by eight to 10 times in a seven-year period, and now that might be pushed to a 10-year period.”

You’ve got a big lithium problem on the horizon, [supplying] only 19 million EVs, compared to the 34 million we think we’re going to need.”—Simon Moores,
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence

Production from current mines and those likely to enter operation suggest about 900,000 tonnes of annual lithium supply by 2030, enough to power about 19 million EVs. That constitutes “a big, big problem,” Moores said. “You’ve got a big lithium problem on the horizon, [supplying] only 19 million EVs, compared to the 34 million we think we’re going to need.”

Showing “a similar trajectory,” cobalt supply estimates come to 228,000 tonnes by 2030, enough for only about 17.9 million EVs.

“The mining companies are being super-cautious or even beyond super-cautious, considering we’re going to need 34 million EVs-worth. And even if that goes down to 25 million, you’re still way off,” he added.

Future demand will continue to be dominated by China, Benchmark maintains. Of the 130 battery plants currently expected by 2030, China would host 93. The country’s capacity would equal about 1,683 GWh, enough for 31 million EVs averaging 55 kWh. A dismal second, Europe follows with 16 plants totalling 413 GWh for 7.4 million EVs. The U.S. would have just seven plants for 205 GWh and 3.7 million EVs.

Currently producing about 73% of Li-ion batteries, China’s forecast to maintain that proportion with about 70% of global production in 2029.

For all that, Moores said European megafactories and Tesla’s U.S.-based Gigafactories set an example for supply chains in other industries.

“What the coronavirus has shown is that truly global supply chains in the 21st century don’t work. They’re too fragile, there’s too many question marks out there. Even pre-coronavirus that was the case…. The battery industry was well ahead of the curve on localizing the supply chain as much as possible…. That will continue, I think it’s a blueprint for other industries to follow. The battery supply chain is ahead of the curve on that.”

But, he cautioned, “the U.S. has to take on the same scale as China.”

Gaia Metals finds new drill targets through updated geophysical analysis

April 16th, 2020

by Greg Klein | April 16, 2020

A gold-polymetallic project in Quebec’s James Bay region shows additional potential following re-evaluation of previous data. On behalf of Gaia Metals TSXV:GMC, Dynamic Discovery Geoscience applied new methods and software to a 1998 induced polarization and resistivity survey over the Golden Gap area of the Corvette-FCI property. With greater geological insight, Gaia now sees a different trend of mineralization that has yet to be drilled, along with additional strike extensions, and parallel and sub-parallel trends.

Gaia Metals finds new drill targets through updated geophysical analysis

Gaia Metals’ polymetallic potential expands,
thanks to modern re-interpretation of historic data.
(Photo: Gaia Metals)

The project comprises Gaia’s 100%-held Corvette claims and a 75% earn-in from Osisko Mining TSX:OSK spinout O3 Mining TSXV:OIII on the FCI-East and FCI-West blocks.

Historic, non-43-101 results from Golden Gap include samples up to 108.9 g/t gold, and a drill intercept of 10.48 g/t gold over seven metres. Areas of interest also include the Elsass and Lorraine prospects, the latter showing an outcrop sample of 8.15% copper, 1.33 g/t gold and 171 g/t silver. Lithium-tantalum channel samples from the CV1 pegmatite reached up to 2.28% Li2O and 471 ppm Ta2O5 over six metres.

The new interpretation finds two separate trends to a previously identified signature. A northern trend strongly corresponds with the historic samples up to 108.9 g/t gold. A less-intense southern trend doesn’t correspond with high-grade sampling. Yet it was the southern trend that was drilled to follow an historic intercept of 10.5 g/t gold over seven metres, even though that trend doesn’t correlate with the mineralized zone in that drill hole.

Outcrop samples collected last year found new gold occurrences along strike to the west, “further supporting the interpreted trend in this direction and significantly amplifying the potential,” Gaia stated. “The western trend outlined in the IP-resistivity data continues to the boundary of the survey, indicating it extends further west.”

Additional areas correlate with surface samples grading between 1 and 3 g/t gold, showing targets that are “parallel to sub-parallel to the main mineralized trend and occur within an area of approximately 2.5 kilometres east-west by 1.5 kilometres north-south,” the company added. “Each of these prospective targets and trends remains to be drill-tested.”

In February the company announced a geological review that highlighted the project’s potential for nickel, copper and platinum group elements. An historic outcrop sample from the Lac Long Sud area brought 3.1 g/t gold, 1.06 g/t palladium, 0.005 g/t platinum, 7.5 g/t silver, 0.24% copper, 0.19% nickel and 411 g/t cobalt. Despite those grades, little of the historic work and none of last year’s samples were assayed for PGEs. “Hence these seemingly isolated results necessitate further geochemical analysis in future exploration programs.”

Among other assets, Gaia’s portfolio includes the Pontax lithium-gold property in Quebec, the Golden silica property in British Columbia and a 40% interest in the Northwest Territories’ Hidden Lake lithium property.

Troubled and uncharted

April 10th, 2020

Navigating the new normal to an uncertain destination

by Greg Klein | April 10, 2020

The new normal transitions into an uncertain future

 

What’s Chinese for “cui bono”?

Through grimly ironic coincidence, the country that unwittingly inflicted this on the world stands to benefit. “The Chinese Communist Party is seizing what its senior officials are calling the ‘opportunity’ of the pandemic to realize the party’s long-game objective of fully eclipsing North America and Europe in the global order,” writes Terry Glavin.

“While the Chinese government’s internal statistics are routinely questioned by outside analysts, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology credibly reports that roughly 75% of small and medium-sized businesses across the country have already resumed production.”

On April 7 Bloomberg reported its own estimates “that most of China was 90% to 95% back to work at the end of last week, noting pick-ups in the steel market, construction activity and crude processing. Those oil refineries, as well as coal-fired power plants, are nearing last year’s operating rates, while metals stockpiles have shrunk from record or near-record levels. It’s a three-month cycle of collapse and recovery marked by perhaps the most heartening milestone for those nations still fending off the worst of the virus: China has now reported zero new COVID-19 deaths for the first time since January.”

But not so heartening, former U.K. foreign secretary William Hague noted in the Telegraph that “in Europe, North America and lower-income countries too, it seems likely that the virus will kill far more people, wreak much worse economic damage and bring more unwelcome changes to life than in China itself.”

The new normal transitions into an uncertain future

Glavin quotes from an analysis by Horizon Advisory, a consultancy that investigates Chinese policy: “Beijing intends to use the global dislocation and downturn to attract foreign investment, to seize strategic market share and resources—especially those that force dependence—and to proliferate global information systems.”

Hague warned that “China will gain from the new age of the surveillance state that will be summoned into existence around much of the world in the coming months…. Guess who will be well-placed to supply the systems, software and data, and to do so quickly and on a large scale?”

Glavin also stressed China’s designs on global information technology architecture, “mostly through Huawei Technologies, China’s ‘national champion’ telecom giant.”

He remains stark in his conclusion: “We may be stumbling headlong into an uncharted realm of social breakdown and mass graves. We could be destined for something else, somewhere dark and foreboding, where Xi Jinping calls all the shots. Or we might be traversing an excruciating social and economic terra incognita towards some eventual semblance of normalcy.”

Keep the news stream flowing

Seemingly steadfast, though, are miners and explorers. Many of their announcements concern responses to the crisis, especially whether companies are allowed to continue working, or whether they find it practical to do so.

The new normal transitions into an uncertain future

Photo: Talon Metals

But with many seasonal exploration programs completed before the industry entered pandemic mode, assays are starting to pour in. Some random and radically abbreviated examples from April 8 alone include 2.31 g/t gold over 101 metres from QMX Gold’s (TSXV:QMX) Bonnefond deposit in Val d’Or; 7.14 metres of mixed massive sulphides from Talon Metals’ (TSX:TLO) Tamarack nickel-copper-cobalt project in Minnesota; 25,466 ppm zirconium, 89.1 ppm dysprosium, 1281 ppm neodymium and 348 ppm praseodymium over 8.83 metres in a channel sample from Search Minerals’ (TSXV:SMY) Silver Fox zone in Labrador; 0.69% Nb2O5 over 185 metres at NioBay Metals’ (TSXV:NBY) James Bay niobium project in Ontario; 11.6 g/t gold and 2,960 g/t silver in surface chip samples taken by Cornerstone Capital Resources’ (TSXV:CGP) ASX-listed JV partner Sunstone Metals at their Bramaderos gold-copper project in Ecuador.

Other project updates included promises of assays to come from recent programs or new developments from analytical work. Determined, maybe even irrepressible, junior exploration soldiers on.

A humanitarian call for mineral exploration supplies and skills

As of April 9 the Association for Mineral Exploration received 29 responses to its call for assistance in providing testing, triage, housing and isolation areas for vulnerable people. “As mineral explorers, we have access to the supplies needed and are in a unique position to help,” AME pointed out. If you can, please consider the following donations:

  • Insulated structures (both hard and soft wall)

  • Camp gear such as furniture, lighting and kitchen appliances

  • Medical equipment

  • Camp support personnel such as caterers, housekeepers, janitors, etc.

  • Available medical staff including such qualifications as OFA3s, paramedics, RNs, etc.

  • Other supplies or skills

To make a contribution, fill out this form and AME will be in touch. 

For further information contact Savannah Nadeau.

AME’s program comprises part of a spontaneous international effort in which miners and explorers across Canada and around the world contribute supplies, facilities, skills and expertise to the cause.

We will get through this—won’t we?

From one perspective, nuclear energy poses dangers unimagined by its more conventional critics. Although statistically one of our safest sources of electricity, its complexity requires a sophisticated and orderly society to guarantee safety.

Would that be possible if the West succumbed to a future dominated by rampant terrorism, rioting and crime—and in Canada, incessant blockades as well as unrestrained flakery? These are nightmarish scenarios, of course, but the pandemic makes them seem almost quaint.

An outbreak during a nuclear refuelling program at Pennsylvania’s Limerick facility just hints at the vulnerability of key infrastructure if illness strikes enough people, or even just a few specialists with rare expertise. Populations would suffer not only compounding problems from the loss of essential services but also dangers ranging from an ailing reactor to a crumbling hydro dam.

Preparations to lock down essential staff show foresight, but might also presage a highly regimented society. Such an outcome might result anyway, as has often been the historic case following a period of chaos.

Weakening links in the supply chains

Anyone who’s seen the derelict state of greater Vancouver’s once bountiful agricultural districts might question the wisdom of importing so much food from so far away. Times like these afflict complicated trade, communications and transportation networks and, as the case of milk distribution shows, shorter supply lines too.

Unable to get their product to market, some Canadian dairy farmers have been dumping large amounts of raw milk. In British Columbia, the practice started on April 3, “a measure of last resort, and only considered in emergency situations,” according to the B.C. Dairy Association.

Among problems listed by Postmedia are “transportation shortages caused by an overwhelmed trucking industry, processing and packaging challenges, a sharp decline in bulk customers due to the mass closures of restaurants and bakeries, and inconsistent distribution to stores.”

Another hint of the possibilities to come was the suspension of Maple Leaf Foods’ (TSX:MFI) Brampton poultry plant after three workers became infected.

“This is a very fluid situation and our teams are working very closely within our network, as well as with our supply chain and logistics partners so that we can continue to deliver safe food at this critical time,” the company stated.

Meanwhile selling groceries can prove deadly, as shown by COVID-19 fatalities among U.S. retail workers. The virus recently struck down at least four American supermarket employees, the Washington Post reported on April 6. “Industry experts say the rise of worker infections and deaths will likely have a ripple effect on grocers’ ability to retain and add new workers at a time when they’re looking to rapidly hire thousands of temporary employees,” the paper stated.

In southwestern British Columbia, some newly hired staff appear to come from a vulnerable age group. Some of the security guards policing the socially distant queues outside retail outlets wouldn’t look out of place in a long-term care home.

Myriad other supply chain challenges include COVID-19-specific medical equipment.

The new normal transitions into an uncertain future

Can your immune system withstand The Stand?

Virus novel precaution: Take this immunity self-test

Tragically these are also times of rampant misinformation, whether it’s conspiracy theories of how the virus originated or phoney promises of miraculous cures. One especially preposterous claim has been perpetrated by the National Post: that Stephen King’s The Stand “is either the perfect distraction from COVID-19 or too eerily accurate to consider.”

Yes it’s a story, of sorts, about a virus killing off most of our species. But before any attempt to read it, potential victims should answer these questions:

  • I like fictional characters who resemble TV stereotypes

  • I don’t care how long an author takes to tell a story, as long as it’s long

  • My favourite pastimes include watching water boil, paint dry and grass grow

  • I like boring books because they make our suddenly shortened lives seem to pass so slowly

If you answered every question with a resounding yes, you have sufficient boredom immunity to survive this virus novel.

Calendar of the plague year

These days commemorate the plague that passed over and the Resurrection. We can hope…

Crisis response

April 3rd, 2020

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains under the pandemic

by Greg Klein | April 3, 2020

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

 

Idled explorers: Can you help?

“Essential supplies and personnel are needed to create and operate temporary facilities for testing, triage, housing and isolation areas for vulnerable populations,” states the Association for Mineral Exploration. “As mineral explorers, we have access to the supplies needed and are in a unique position to help.”

AME calls on the industry to contribute excess capacity of the following:

  • Insulated structures (both hard and soft wall)

  • Camp gear such as furniture, lighting and kitchen appliances

  • Medical equipment

  • Camp support personnel such as caterers, housekeepers, janitors, etc.

  • Available medical staff including such qualifications as OFA3s, paramedics, RNs, etc.

  • Other supplies or skills

If you can help, please fill out this form and AME will be in touch. 

For further information contact Savannah Nadeau.

Preparing for a wider emergency

Given the danger of one crisis triggering others, essential infrastructure remains at risk. One plan to safeguard Ontario’s electricity service would require Toronto workers to bunk down in employer-supplied accommodation under lockdown conditions better known to isolated locations.

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Quarantines might require essential
services to provide job-site bed and board.
(Photo: Independent Electricity System Operator)

It hasn’t happened yet, but the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator stands ready for the possibility, according to a Canadian Press story published by the Globe and Mail. A not-for-profit agency established by the province, the IESO co-ordinates Ontario electricity supply to meet demand.

About 90% of its staff now work at home but another 48 employees must still come into work, CEO Peter Gregg said. Eight six-person teams now undergo 12-hour shifts in two Toronto-area control rooms.

“Should it become necessary, he said, bed, food and other on-site arrangements have been made to allow the operators to stay at their workplaces as a similar agency in New York has done,” CP reported.

Similar plans may well be underway not only for essential infrastructure but also for essential production, processing, manufacturing, communications, transportation and trade. One sign of the times to come could be locked-down camps in supermarket parking lots for our under-appreciated retail-sector heroes.

Meanwhile, retaining and protecting care-home staff already constitute a crisis within a crisis.

Australia guards against predatory foreign takeovers

With China prominently in mind, Australia has taken extra measures to protect companies and projects shattered by the COVID-19 economy. Canberra has temporarily granted its Foreign Investment Review Board extra powers to guard distressed companies and assets against acquisitions by opportunistic foreigners. Although previous foreign acquisitions came under review only when the price passed certain thresholds, now all such transactions get FIRB scrutiny.

The changes follow concerns raised by MPs on Australia’s intelligence and security committee. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted committee chairperson Andrew Hastie warning of “foreign state-owned enterprises working contrary to our national interest. More than ever, we need to protect ourselves from geo-strategic moves masquerading as legitimate business.”

Committee member Tim Wilson added, “We can’t allow foreign state-owned enterprises and their business fronts to use COVID-19’s economic carnage as a gateway to swoop distressed businesses and assets.”

Among protected assets are exploration and mining projects, utilities, infrastructure and an interest of 20% or more in a company or business.

Critical minerals become ever more critical

As Lynas Corp extended the suspension of its rare earths processing facility in line with Malaysian government pandemic orders, the company noted the importance of its products “in permanent magnets used in medical devices including ventilators, and in lanthanum products used in oil refineries for petroleum production.”

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

The suspension of its Malaysian plant prompted
Lynas to emphasize REs’ criticality to virus treatment.
(Photo: Lynas Corp)

Originally set to expire on March 31, the government order currently stays in force until April 14. RE extraction continues at Lynas’ Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

In late February Malaysia granted the company a three-year licence renewal for the processing facility, which had been threatened with closure due to controversy about its low-level radioactive tailings. Among conditions for the renewal are development of a permanent disposal facility for existing waste and putting a cracking and leaching plant in operation outside Malaysia by July 2023 to end the practice of transporting radioactive material to the country.

Committed to maintaining a non-Chinese supply chain, the company plans to locate the C&L plant in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Sharing the disease, hoarding the treatment

A problem recognized in American defence procurement has hit health care—the need to build non-Chinese supply chains. Most of the world’s ventilators and about half the masks are manufactured in China, points out a recent column by Terry Glavin.

The West is learning, finally and the hard way, “that thriving liberal democracies cannot co-exist for long within a model of neo-liberal globalization that admits into its embrace such a tyrannical state-capitalist monstrosity as the People’s Republic of China.”

The U.S., for example, relies heavily on China for antibiotics, painkillers, surgical gowns, equipment that measures blood oxygen levels and magnetic resonance imaging scanners. China effectively banned medical equipment exports as soon as Wuhan went on lockdown, Glavin adds.

“It probably didn’t help that Ottawa sent 16,000 tonnes of gear to China back in February. That was a lot of gear—1,101 masks, 50,118 face shields, 36,425 medical coveralls, 200,000 pairs of gloves and so on—but a drop in Beijing’s bucket. A New York Times investigation last month found that China had imported 56 million respirators and masks, just in the first week of the Wuhan shutdown.

“It is not known how much of that cargo came from the massive bulk-buying campaign organized and carried out across Canada by affiliates of the United Front Work Department, the overseas propaganda and influence-peddling arm of the Chinese Communist Party.”

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Desperate need for health care supplies
pits country against country. (Photo: 3M)

Nor does the non-Chinese world display altruism. In response to the crisis, the EU and more than 50 countries have either banned or restricted exports of medical equipment, Glavin states.

By April 3 global health care products supplier 3M revealed that Washington asked the company to stop exporting U.S.-manufactured N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America. 3M noted “significant humanitarian implications” but also the possibility of trade retaliation. “If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease.”

The company did win China’s permission to import 10 million of its own Chinese-manufactured N95s into the U.S.

Meanwhile the Canadian government comes under increasing criticism for discouraging the public from wearing masks.

Chinese supply chains also jeopardized by Chinese disease

As the world’s main exporter of manufactured goods, China’s the main importer of raw materials, especially metals. But, as the world’s main exporter of disease, China managed to threaten its own supplies.

Reuters columnist Andy Home outlined lockdown-imposed cutbacks of copper, zinc and lead from Chile and Peru, and chrome from South Africa; reductions in cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in tin from already depleting Myanmar, and in nickel from the Philippines, the latter a hoped-for replacement after Indonesia banned unprocessed exports.

The longer the lockdowns, “the greater the potential for supply chain disruption,” Home comments. “As the biggest buyer of metallic raw materials, this is a ticking time-bomb for China’s metals producers.”

Miners’ providence unevenly distributed

Probably no other foreign shutdowns have affected as many Canadian miners and explorers as that of Mexico. Considered non-essential, their work will be suspended until April 30, with extensions more than likely. Mexico’s announcement must have sounded familiar to Pan American Silver TSX:PAAS, which had already pressed the pause button to comply with national quarantines in Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. That currently limits the company’s mining to Timmins, where production has been reduced by about 10% to 20% to allow physical distancing.

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Mauritania exempted Kinross Gold’s Tasiast mine
from domestic travel restrictions. (Photo: Kinross Gold)

One company more favourably located, so far, is Kinross Gold TSX:K. As of April 1, operations continued at its seven mines in Nevada, Alaska, Brazil, Mauritania, Russia and Ghana, while work went on at its four non-producing projects in Alaska, Mauritania, Russia and Chile.

Expanded shutdowns ordered by Ontario on April 3 include many construction and industrial projects but exempt mining. Earlier that day New Gold TSX:NGD announced Rainy River’s restart after a two-week suspension to allow self-isolation among employees. Many of the mine’s workers live locally and made short trips into Minnesota before the border closed.

Quebec border restrictions have hindered the Ontario operations of Kirkland Lake Gold TSX:KL, cutting off a source of employees and contractors. As a result the company reduced production at its Macassa mine and suspended work at its Holt complex, comprising three gold mines and a mill. Kirkland reduced operations at its Detour Lake mine effective March 23, after a worker showed COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolated on March 14. He tested positive on March 26. Production continues at the company’s Fosterville mine in Australia.

Some explorers have been idled by government restrictions, others by market conditions. Still, some companies have money and jurisdictions in which to spend it. Liberty Gold TSX:LGD, for example, resumed drilling its Black Pine gold project in Idaho on March 31.

Some jurisdictions, like B.C. and New Brunswick, have extended work requirement deadlines to help companies keep exploration claims active.

“China needs to be held responsible”

A few Canadian journalists are saying what we might never hear from our politicians. Here, for example, is Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein:

“China needs to be held responsible. The problem is, because of its political power— and you see it in the World Health Organization announcements, in Canadian announcements—they’ve been praising what China did. There would have been a virus anyway. China made it worse. More people are dying, more people are being infected, and its dictators need to be held to account.”

Work suspended

March 26th, 2020

Some Canadian mining and exploration dispatches during the pandemic

by Greg Klein | March 26, 2020

Shut Down Canada has largely been achieved, but not by the forces that advocated it nor—until someone finds a way of blaming this on climate change—by the doomsday belief they were pushing. Residents of our strangely quiet cities and towns watch the horror unfold elsewhere while wondering how long and hard the pandemic will hit Canada. Meanwhile, workers and business owners might consider themselves lucky if the economy fares no worse than a very serious recession.

Some Canadian mining and exploration dispatches during the pandemic

A reminder that one crisis can trigger another unwittingly came from FortisAlberta on March 23. The company that provides 60% of the province’s electricity “is taking the necessary actions and precautions to protect the health and well-being of its employees and to provide electricity service to its customers.”

The obvious but demoralizing question arises: What happens if too many key people get sick? That danger could apply to any number of essential services. Economic collapse, social disorder, a breakdown of supply chains add to the nightmarish possibilities.

All of which might not happen. In the meantime we can thank the front line workers who keep our society functioning to the extent that it does. Those one- or two-buck-an-hour temporary pay raises hardly acknowledge society’s debt to retail staff who interact constantly with a potentially plague-ridden public. Care workers for the elderly constitute another group of low-paid heroes, several of whom have already made the ultimate sacrifice.

In the meantime here are some reports on Canadian mining’s response to the crisis.

Inconsistent closures suggest an ambivalent industry

Some Canadian mining and exploration dispatches during the pandemic

IAMGOLD sidelined its Westwood operation in Quebec but
continues work on its Coté project in Ontario. (Photo: IAMGOLD)

Mining hasn’t actually been banned in Ontario and Quebec, although shutdowns of non-essential services continue to April 8 and April 13 respectively. Extensions, of course, look likely. Quebec has ordered the industry, along with aluminum smelting, to “minimize their activities.” Ontario specifically exempted mineral exploration, development, mining and their support services from mandatory closures.

Interpreting Quebec’s decree as a ban, IAMGOLD TSX:IMG suspended its Westwood gold mine in that province but continued work at its 64.75%-held, advanced-stage Coté gold project in Ontario as an “essential service.” Production continues at the company’s Burkina Faso and Suriname operations.

But regardless of government bans or directives, voluntary suspensions take place. Restrictions on travel and social distancing have made projects non-viable, while the threat of localized outbreaks looms large—not just at the job sites and accommodations, but in the isolated communities that supply much of the labour.

In Canada, that often means native communities. “They have a bad history with disproportionate impacts from epidemics,” a Vale Canada spokesperson told the Financial Post. The company put its Voisey’s Bay mine in Labrador on care and maintenance, and planned reductions at its associated Long Harbour nickel-copper-cobalt processing plant in Newfoundland.

So far alone of the Northwest Territories’ three operations, Dominion Diamond Mines announced an indefinite suspension for Ekati on March 19. The Union of Northern Workers stated its intention to grieve the manner in which its members were laid off.

Some Canadian mining and exploration dispatches during the pandemic

Having laid off its native staff, Agnico Eagle continues its Nunavut
operations largely with workers from Quebec. (Photo: Agnico Eagle)

Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM made the ramp-down decision a day after Quebec’s March 23 order, after discussions with government “to get additional clarity.” The suspensions applied to three Quebec mines but the company planned “reduced operations” at Meliadine and Meadowbank in Nunavut, largely under Quebecois workers.

Five days earlier Agnico Eagle began sending home Nunavummiut staff from its Nunavut mines and exploration projects to prevent virus transmission “from a southern worker to a Nunavut worker, with the risk of it moving into the communities,” explained CEO Sean Boyd. Production was expected to continue under the remaining staff.

The following day residents blocked a road from Rankin Inlet airport to Meliadine to protest the use of replacement workers from Mirabel and Val d’Or, Quebec. Although the territory has banned travel from other jurisdictions, critical workers may apply for an exemption. They’re also required to undergo two weeks of isolation in their own region prior to travel.

From boots on the ground to fingers on the keyboard

Exploration suspensions haven’t come at a bad time for some projects, which had completed or nearly completed winter programs. Where labs remain open, assays might provide some badly needed good news.

Much of the crucial work of analyzing results and planning future exploration can be done by desktop. One example of a company with a multinational work-at-home team is Turmalina Metals TSXV:TBX, which completed a seasonal field program at its San Francisco de Los Andes gold project shortly before Argentina imposed a nation-wide quarantine. “While Turmalina maintains a corporate office in Canada our technical and managerial team operate remotely from individual home offices located in Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Asia,” states a March 23 announcement. “The current compilation, analysis and modeling of recently collected data is being done on a physically decentralized basis from these individual home offices as the company prepares for drilling.”

Follow the money

No one’s saying so out loud, but travel restrictions just might divert money from conferences, trade shows and expense accounts to actual work. Then again, money can still be squandered on low-IQ promotional campaigns produced at the kitchen table.

Every metal and mineral has a silver lining

This isn’t a sector that overlooks opportunity. Two days after Vanstar Mining Resources TSXV:VSR reported that drilling “continues without stopping” at its 25%-held Nelligan project in Quebec, the company acknowledged that majority partner IAMGOLD had suspended work. But “it should be noted that current events can also bring certain opportunities for acquiring gold projects at a lower cost,” Vanstar pointed out. The junior was merely echoing comments made by others, including BHP Group NYSE:BHP earlier this month.

With the economic outlook as confused as a professional stock-picker’s thought processes, mining’s future remains profoundly uncertain. But diminished supply can certainly help chances of rebounding demand.

And suspensions might encourage advantageous awareness, as noted by Uranium Energy Corp NYSE:UEC president/CEO Amir Adnani. “The recent global events and supply disruptions further underscore the importance of domestic supply chains for vital resources,” stated the U.S. purveyor of U3O8.

How could we live without them?

Endeavours deemed essential by Ontario and Quebec include capital markets services and agencies like the TMX Group and securities commissions. The provinces also consider alcohol and cannabis retailers essential. As if the world wasn’t already facing worse consequences, Toronto medical officer Eileen de Villa said banning booze “would lead to pretty significant health consequences.”

She didn’t specifically mention geoscientists.

The experts speak

Some fatuous remarks at PDAC provided retrospectively grim humour, as well as an exhibition of prognosticator pomposity. Here’s Mickey Fulp’s take on COVID-19, as quoted by IKN:

  • “I think it’s overblown.”

  • “All these shows are flu incubators, anyway.”

  • “I think it (i.e. infections) are going to be less this year, because people are doing things like washing their hands.”

  • “This is a blip on the radar screen. Especially in the U.S. where I’m from, because our economy is absolutely roaring and virus fears are not going to do major damage to the U.S. market.”

  • “I think it absolutely is an overreaction and the quicker it’s realized, the better.”

  • “This is a variety of flu.”

Of course to sheltered North Americans, the first week of March might seem a long time ago. So here’s Doug Casey’s insight, as published by Kitco on March 24:

“The virus itself isn’t nearly as serious, I don’t know how serious it’s going to be, but not terribly in my opinion. What I’m really shocked at, Daniela, is the degree of hysteria on the part of the powers that be. They’ve actually just gone insane.”

Click here for objective data on the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s time to be ambitious” on critical minerals: Mining Association of Canada

January 24th, 2020

by Greg Klein | January 24, 2020

Canadian-American co-operation on essential elements means opportunity for this country’s wider economy, Pierre Gratton emphasizes. Speaking to the Vancouver Board of Trade, the president/CEO of the Mining Association of Canada commented on the recent Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, as well as the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan.

Two weeks ago Natural Resources Canada announced the cross-border agreement to secure deposits and develop supply chains for minerals essential to the economy, defence, technology and clean energy. The initiative takes place as the U.S. seeks ways to reduce its dependency on sources considered unreliable, unethical or potential economic and military rivals.

It’s time to be ambitious on critical minerals Mining Association of Canada

Pierre Gratton: “We have an opportunity to lay the foundation
for a new era in investment and middle class job creation,
not just in mining but in new, emerging downstream industrial
and manufacturing sectors.” (Photo: Matt Borck,
courtesy Greater Vancouver Board of Trade)

“Critical minerals are more than rare earth elements, and include several minerals and metals already mined in Canada including cobalt, copper, precious metals, nickel and uranium, which are critical to low-carbon electrification and new battery technologies in the automotive, space, defence and high-tech sectors,” said Gratton.

“It’s time to be ambitious. We have an opportunity to lay the foundation for a new era in investment and middle class job creation, not just in mining but in new, emerging downstream industrial and manufacturing sectors.”

Canada ranks among the world’s top five countries for 15 minerals and metals, MAC stated, and remains a global leader in responsible mining practices. Over the past five years MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining program has been adopted by mining associations in seven countries on five continents.

“TSM focuses on enabling mining companies to meet society’s needs for minerals, metals and energy products in the most socially, economically and environmentally responsible way through mandatory commitments to annually report and assure social and environmental performance with strong multi-stakeholder oversight,” the association added.

“Canadian metals come conflict-free, meeting the highest environmental standards and a commitment to transparency unmatched anywhere,” Gratton continued. “We are confident that with these sustainable standards and new government commitments, Canada’s mining industry has the tools and support to provide the responsibly sourced minerals vital to industries around the world.”

Gratton also spoke on the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan, a federal-provincial initiative intended to enhance the industry’s competitiveness, innovation and native participation.

Mining contributes $97 billion to national GDP and 19% of domestic exports, employing 626,000 people directly and indirectly across the country. The industry is proportionally Canada’s largest private sector employer of natives and a major customer of native-owned businesses.